Patent Search: What Is It?

A patent search cost can be anywhere from $100 to $3,000 depending on the complexity of your invention and covers research into existing patents and patent applications. You can use free online tools to do your own search, but an attorney can help you dig deeper. In addition to professional fees, expect to pay a government search fee after you submit your patent application.

There are a few types of patent searches:

  • A novelty search compares your invention to prior art to determine if your invention qualifies for a patent, since you cannot patent something that has already been patented. Prior art includes previously patented inventions, as well as unpatented inventions, that existed before your inventions.
  • A state-of-the-art search gives you an overview of advancements in a certain industry.
  • An infringement search helps you determine if your invention might infringe on an existing patent. This type of search is often connected to a lawsuit.
  • A validity search goes through older patents and has the goal of determining if a newer patent is invalid.

A patent search involves going through patent databases, scientific journals, and other relevant publications.

Professional patent researchers are familiar with how to compare inventions and sift through databases. They understand the wording and drawings in patent applications. They produce reports that highlight any information that relates to the goal of your patent search. The researcher may also offer an opinion about whether an inventor's idea will qualify for a patent.

Researchers use a range of techniques to complete a search. They use both keywords and the cooperative patent classification, which is a system in the U.S. and Europe that groups patents according to invention type.

Why Is a Patent Search Important?

A patent search offers several important advantages:

  • You can avoid putting effort into an invention that has already been patented. Therefore, you'll avoid the costly and time-consuming patent application process.
  • By knowing what inventions already exist, you can avoid infringing on another company's patent. Therefore, you will not run into Freedom to Operate problems.
  • Existing patents can give you ideas for how to improve your invention and make it better than and different from other inventions.
  • You can learn about your competitors' inventions and get ideas about who might make a good business partner or investor.
  • You may discover that a competitor's patent is invalid.
  • If you are thinking about buying a patent, researching it can confirm that the patent is valid.
  • You'll become familiar with technology trends in your industry. You may get ideas on how to adapt and improve upon existing inventions. You'll be able to save significantly on R&D costs.
  • You'll be able to evaluate the commercial potential of an invention. If many inventions that are similar to yours already exist, you'll save money if you choose not to continue developing the invention.
  • You can find out about expired patents, and you'll be able to use those inventions for free.
  • The information you find can give you insight into the value of your company's patents.
  • You'll find information that will help you prepare your own patent application. When you take all prior art into consideration, you can save on attorney fees, and you'll have to do less haggling with the USPTO after you submit your application.

You can choose not to do a patent search, but this is not wise. Even though the USPTO will do a search for similar patents when you submit a patent application, this search is not as extensive as what a professional researcher would do. Therefore, even if you receive a patent, another person or company might later perform research that makes your patent invalid.

Once you have the results of a patent search, you can feel more confident about sending your patent application to the USPTO.

How Much Does a Patent Search Cost?

Professional Search Fees

Professionals have different methods of charging for patent research. Some charge a flat rate, while others have an hourly fee. This hourly fee often applies if you want the researcher to sort through the information and offer an opinion on the patentability of your invention. Of course, these fees depend on who is doing the research and the type of invention that they'll be researching.

If your invention is fairly simple, you might pay as little as $100 for the search if you hire a service that doesn't offer an in-depth opinion or analysis. For more complex inventions that require deeper research, you might end up paying $2,000 or more. Here are some ballpark estimates for what you might pay if you hire an attorney:

  • $1,000 to $1,250 for simple inventions
  • $1,250 to $1,500 for slightly complex inventions
  • $1,500 to $2,000 for moderately or relatively complex inventions
  • $2,000 to $3,000 for highly complex inventions or software

Some businesses frequently need to do patent research. If this is true for you, you may want to subscribe to advanced patent research tools and services instead of paying a separate fee for each search.

Government Search Fees

After you submit your application, the patent examiner assigned to your case will perform a search related to your patent. If you are a small entity, such as a small business or a university, the search fee is $300. For larger businesses, the fee is $600. You can visit the USPTO website for more information about government search fees.

Performing Your Own Patent Research

If you are on a limited budget, you might want to skip a professional search and do your own research. The USPTO has a detailed tutorial on how to do your own preliminary patent research.

There are many online resources you can use to do your research, including:

When you're using a research tool, look at all the available tutorials for that tool so you use it to the greatest advantage.

When doing research, use all possible keywords that might relate to your invention. For example, you might want to patent a mouse trap. Don't just search for "mouse trap." Search for "rodent trap" and any other similar terms you can think of.

You also have an offline patent research option. Every state has at least one Patent and Trademark Depository Library. The librarians there can give you tips on how to do a patent search.

You'll find a lot of irrelevant patents during your search. To narrow your results, try searching for patents that belong to your competitors. This trick is particularly useful in industries where only a handful of companies are prominent.

What Other Costs Are Associated With Getting a Patent?

A patent gives you a monopoly on your invention for 20 years, which is why many inventors choose to pursue patents despite the costs associated with the process. In addition to the research fees, you will have to pay:

  • Government filing fees. These fees vary. The basic filing fee for a small entity that wants a utility patent is $140. For larger businesses, the fee is $280. If the application is lengthy, there are additional charges.
  • Attorney fees. Attorney fees depend on whom you hire and on how complex your invention is. For a simple invention, attorney fees might be just a few thousand dollars. For a more complex invention, such as software, these fees could be upwards of $16,000.
  • Maintenance fees. If your patent application is approved, you will have to pay maintenance fees throughout the life of the patent. For small entities, including individual inventors and small businesses, maintenance fees are:
    • 3.5 years after the patent is issued — $800
    • 7.5 years after the patent is issued — $1,800
    • 11.5 years after the patent is issued — $3,700

If your business is larger, maintenance fees for you are typically double what they are for small entities.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does a patent search take?

The amount of time a patent search takes depends on who is doing the research and the type of invention they are researching. For example, because there are so many software patents in existence, a search for this type of invention might take longer than other searches.

A thorough search can take between five business days and four weeks, but that is just a rough estimate.

  • What information should an inventor provide to the patent researcher?

You should give your researcher as much information as possible about your invention. You can include drawings, a detailed description, and the names of any companies whom you know are your competitors.

Conclusion

A professional patent search can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, but the benefits of such a search may make it worth the price. If you need help with patent searching, you can post your question or concern on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.